Nick Matthew and James Willstrop renew rivalry in squash Worlds

By Nick HopeBBC sports reporter
Matthew & Willstrop on the rivalry inspiring squash success

Not since the days Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett regularly locked horns on the athletics track has British sport seen a rivalry as intense - or acrimonious - as that of squash pair Nick Matthew and James Willstrop.

The Englishmen are separated by just three years in age, 30 geographical miles in Yorkshire and have regularly tussled for world number one status in recent times.

Matthew, 33 and Willstrop, 30, also compete in a sport which has united behind three ultimately failed attempts to gain entry to the Olympics.

However there has never been any emotional connection between them and next week they will battle it out for supremacy once again at the World Championshipsexternal-link in Manchester.

"Everyone knows we're not the best of friends," admits world number three Willstrop.

"It's not been the easiest of relationships but I think people have enjoyed that niggle and the difficulties we've had on the court."

They have argued when competing against one anotherexternal-link and struggled to form a cohesive team even when paired together in a bid to win Commonwealth gold.

World number four Matthew, who lives in Sheffield, admits that attempt at the 2006 Games in Melbourne was "doomed to fail" from the beginning.

"I think the selectors thought our individual talents would combine well, but let's just say the team-work was somewhat lacking," said Matthew. The pair were eliminated at the quarter-final stage.

"I don't think anyone wants to see hugging and kissing after every point, they want to see people getting stuck into one another and you're always guaranteed that when James and I play."

Two-time world champion Matthew, the fourth seed in Manchester, has dominated their recent battles and is unbeaten in 15 encounters against Pontefract-based Willstrop. But the Commonwealth gold medallist in 2010 knows that run could end at any time.

"I remember when he [Willstrop] got to world number one - I was injured at the time and sat on the sofa back at home," he said.

Matthew beats Willstrop to 2013 British crown

"The fact it was James up there made me extra motivated to get fit, healthy and back to competing again."

Willstrop can't explain why he has struggled against his big rival but admits there is respect between the pair.

"His achievements and the way he handles himself on the squash court is very inspirational to others and to me," he said. "I think through our fantastic matches we have learnt from one another."

Willstrop's more 'mellow' approach could be due to his impending fatherhood, with partner Vanessa due to give birth any day.

"It's so exciting at the moment for the pair of us and such a nice thing to look forward to," he said.

"Squash is a secondary thing in this situation and that's probably a positive thing going into the Worlds because I can be quite intense.

"The more I can lighten things up, the better hopefully I'll play and it would be wonderful to win and share that with my family."

World number one Ramy Ashour of Egypt and last week's US open champion Gregory Gaultier of France will provide stern opposition for Matthew and Willstrop.

"Ramy has won 50 matches in a row now, which is pretty decent in a sport as competitive as ours, and it's the first time we've had an undisputed world number one for a few years," said Matthew.

"Gaultier is also in great form and beat me in the US Open final so I expect them to both be up there with James and I."